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 Appreciation Makes Good Business Sense: Why Most Employee Recognition Programs Don’t Work

Appreciation Makes Good Business Sense: Why Most Employee Recognition Programs Don’t Work

By Paul White and Kasee Hamilton 

When stress levels in a workplace are high and they continue over time, burnout often follows, with team members leaving their jobs as a result. Employee retention is essential to maintaining a high level of service and to the success of your business. When employees are overworked and don’t feel valued, it leads to emotional and physical exhaustion, conflict with management and decreased productivity.


The reality is that most Americans are not satisfied at work. Over 200,000 global employees were studied by the Boston Consulting Group (Strack, 2014), and the top reason they reported enjoying their work was “feeling appreciated.” The second highest reason was having a good relationship with their supervisor, and #4 was that they had a good relationship with their colleagues. Financial compensation didn’t appear until No. 8!  A recent Gallup poll found that less than 33% of U.S. employees are actively involved in and emotionally committed to their place of employment (Gallup, 2023).


The HVAC industry is not immune to the challenges of staff burnout, conflict and high turnover, all of which cause stress and deteriorate staff morale over time. Four out of five employees (81%) say they are motivated to work harder when their boss shows appreciation for their work (Glassdoor, 2013). Unfortunately, many service managers don’t respond to this need and those who do try to use traditional employee recognition programs where they provide vague public “shout outs” or focus solely on monetary rewards.

Why Most Employee Recognition Programs Don’t Work


When we talk with employees and service managers about their efforts to improve morale through employee recognition programs, the most common responses we receive are negative. Traditional recognition programs often produce skepticism and a lack of interest due to their one-size-fits-all approach, like when everyone gets the same “employee of the month” certificate.  And they typically don’t have a lot of impact because they are experienced as organizationally driven, impersonal and (sometimes) “it’s just his turn.”


Another problem is the focus on recognition in front of large groups—in trainings we conduct, 40% of employees on average indicate they do not want to go up in front of a group to receive an award. Finally, most recognition programs emphasize tangible rewardsplaques, certificates, gift cards and small token gifts. While most people don’t mind receiving gifts, if they don’t also hear verbal praise or get assistance when needed, the objects given become meaningless.


Conversely, research (Chapman and White, 2019) has shown that when employees feel truly valued, numerous positive results occur including decreased absenteeism, reduced staff turnover, increased productivity and improved customer satisfaction. But this occurs when the appreciation is communicated person-to-person, perceived as genuine, and shown in the ways important to the employee. For example, consider a technician whose language of appreciation is acts of service. During the course of a long, busy and hot week, his truck has become disorganized. His manager has noticed his employee has gone above and beyond during his service calls all week and asks him how he could show his thanks. The technician mentions his truck and his concern about not having the time to get it ready before Monday. Together, they organize his tools and supplies, getting the truck ready for the next week.


Practical Steps for Communicating Authentic Appreciation


Helping people change their actions is difficult. And no one is looking for more work to do. As a result, the focus needs to be on making actions of encouragement more efficient and effective. This includes communicating appreciation in the ways preferred by each team member, rather than doing the same thing repeatedly for everyone. spending time with those who value time, sending texts to those who are impacted by them, helping someone who will be grateful for the assistance, and giving a gift to someone who will appreciate the thought.

Two points are important to note: appreciation can be communicated by anyone, and is not the sole responsibility of supervisors. Every team member, regardless of position, can positively impact the workplace culture. Secondly, technicians often report they want to know how to encourage one anotherthey do not want to be recognized just by their supervisor.

How do people find out what their colleagues value? The topic of how someone feels appreciated is not a common workplace conversation and this question can make some people feel uncomfortable. But people tend to think in terms of “encouragement” and “discouragement.” So, a relevant question is, “When you are discouraged, what’s something that someone can do or say that would encourage you?”     
Additionally, there is an 
online assessment tool that identifies the primary language of appreciation of individuals, along with the specific actions that are most important to them. The results can be compiled to create a group profile and a list of valued actions for a team that works together.  Note: a version of the assessment has been created specifically for those who work in the trades (White, 2023).


Getting Started


Within a company, the leadership needs to take a hard look at their employee appreciation activities and take the time to obtain input and feedback from their employees about their perception of the employee recognition program and activities. Ask yourselves:

  • Are there processes or procedures that create a perception of inauthenticity?
  • How much of our employee appreciation is personal (vs. organizational), individual (vs. group-based) and communicated in ways important to the recipient (vs. generic)?

Recognizing employees for the contributions they make to the organization is a good thing. But just “going through the motions” won’t produce the positive results you desire.  Learn how to communicate authentic appreciation in the ways your team members desire, and good outcomes will follow.





Chapman, G. and White, P. (2019). The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. Northfield: Chicago.


Gallup. (2023). “State of the Global Workplace: 2022 Report.”


Glassdoor. (2013). “Employers to Retain Half of Their Employees Longer if Bosses Showed More Appreciation, Glassdoor Survey,” Glassdoor, November 13, 2013.       


Strack, R. (2014). “Decoding Digital Talent: 200,000 Survey Responses on Global Mo bility and Employment Preferences,” Boston Consulting Group.


White, P.  (2023). Motivating By Appreciation Inventory.